Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we continue to read from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippines. In today’s selection, Paul is writing from prison to some disciples who had sent him greetings and expressed concern for Paul’s welfare as a prisoner. Paul responds to them by saying, “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress” (Philippians 4: 12-14).
In this passage, Paul was doing two things. First, he was showing gratitude or thanksgiving to the people who were concerned about him. And second, he was discussing a very important principle of the spiritual life – detachment. We’ll discuss this later.
Before discussing detachment, let’s look at a story adapted from a German folktale, called, “The Poor Man and the Rich Man.”
Long ago and far away, God decided to go for a walk on earth dressed in casual beggar’s clothes. As he was walking along a lonely country road, he came across two houses on different sides of the road. One house was very large and beautiful, and the other was very small and simple. Because night was quickly falling on the land, God decided he better find lodging. He figured that he would go to the big house, for it would no burden to a rich people to host him for the night.
When the rich man saw God dressed as a common traveler, he looked at him carefully and said, “My rooms are full of expensive furniture and paintings, and besides, if I opened my door to every beggar who knocked, I would have nothing but rags myself.” After saying that, the rich man slammed the door in God’s face.
God then walked to the poor house. There, a poor older couple welcomed into their home, served him dinner, and sat and talked with him while having coffee. When it was time to sleep, the couple insisted that God sleep in their bed.
In the morning, after eating a delicious breakfast, God said, “You have been so kind to me, I will give you three wishes that will come true.”
The man said, “Well, we have almost everything we could want or need. Of course we wish for eternal salvation.” The stranger said, “You will have eternal salvation.”
Then, after thinking a bit, the man said, “Well, I wish for good health for my wife and me and a little daily bread.”
“That just counts as one wish, so make a third wish,” God replied.
After consulting with his wife, the man said, “Well, we can’t think of anything else to ask for.”
So, God said, “Well, how about a new house in place of this old one?”
“That would be nice,” the couple said. And immediately, they had a new house.
When the rich man saw the new house of his neighbor, he asked how the poor couple had come to have it. The rich man learned that the stranger he had turned away the night before had granted him three wishes. When the rich man heard that, he ran home and told his wife, and she insisted he run after the stranger and welcome him into their home so that they, too, could have three wishes.
When the rich man caught up with the stranger, he invited him to his home the next time he passed by. He also asked the stranger if he could have three wishes. God said, “Yes, but they will not turn out well for you. You better not use the wishes.”
The rich man didn’t pay any attention to the warning. As he rode his horse home, the horse began to stumble. Irritated, the man cried out, “I wish you would break your neck!” Immediately, the poor old horse fell to the ground dead.
Now the rich man had only two wishes left, and he was angry that he had to carry his heavy saddle all the way home on a hot day. As the sun got hotter, the man became even angrier that he had listened to his wife to run after the stranger. In anger, he shouted to the sky, “I wish my wife had to sit on this saddle and couldn’t ever get down.”
Now, he had used two wishes. When he got home, he was incredibly hungry. Unfortunately, his wife could not fix him a meal, for she was stuck on a saddle. So, the man had to use his third wish, to allow his wife to get down from the saddle.
So, while the poor couple had three wonderful wishes come true, the rich man had nothing but trouble – a scolding from his wife, sore feet, and a dead horse.
The moral of this story is, of course, that like St. Paul, we too should be able to glide through life, being satisfied with what we have. We, too, should be detached from material objects, for the entire material world will one day disappear. Though we should treasure the things of the world and use them wisely – for God created them – we should never fall in love with them.
As we continue our life journey this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we go through life. Do we have the virtue of detachment? Are satisfied with what we have? Or are we forever longing for more and more and more? Are we teaching our children detachment?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: William R. White. “The Poor Man and the Rich Man.” [A story adopted
from a German folktale.] Stories for Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986, pp. 118-121.